Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Men and women process emotions differently

Men and women process emotions differently 

From the 21 January 2015 University of Basel press release

Women rate emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men do and are more likely to remember them. However, there are no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal as far as neutral images are concerned. These were the findings of a large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel that focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity. The results will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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Brain activity when viewing negative emotional images: red and yellow indicates the more active areas of the brain when images are rated as highly stimulating. Green indicates the areas that specifically become more active in women (image: MCN, University of Basel).)

It is known that women often consider emotional events to be more emotionally stimulating than men do. Earlier studies have shown that emotions influence our memory: the more emotional a situation is, the more likely we are to remember it. This raises the question as to whether women often outperform men in memory tests because of the way they process emotions. A research team from the University of Basel’s “Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences” Transfaculty Research Platform attempted to find out.

With the help of 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content – especially negative content – as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did. In the case of neutral images, however, there were no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal.

In a subsequent memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants. Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images. “This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory are due to different mechanisms,” says study leader Dr Annette Milnik.

Increased brain activity
Using fMRI data from 696 test subjects, the researchers were also able to show that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female participants is linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions. “This result would support the common belief that women are more emotionally expressive than men,” explaines Dr Klara Spalek, lead author of the study.

The findings also help to provide a better understanding of gender-specific differences in information processing. This knowledge is important, because many neuropsychiatric illnesses also exhibit gender-related differences. The study is part of a research project led by professors Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos at the University of Basel, which aims to increase the understanding of neuronal and molecular mechanisms of human memory and thereby facilitate the development of new treatments.

Original source
Klara Spalek, Matthias Fastenrath, Sandra Ackermann, Bianca Auschra, XDavid Coynel, Julia Frey, Leo Gschwind, Francina Hartmann, Nadine van der Maarel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Dominique de Quervain and Annette Milnik
Sex-Dependent Dissociation between Emotional Appraisal and Memory: A Large-Scale Behavioral and fMRI Study
Journal of Neuroscience (2015) | doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2384-14.2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Fairness is in the brain

Fairness is in the brain.

From the 20 October 2014 EurekAlert!

Ever wondered how people figure out what is fair? Look to the brain for the answer. According to a new Norwegian brain study, people appreciate fairness in much the same way as they appreciate money for themselves, and also that fairness is not necessarily that everybody gets the same income.

Economists from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and brain researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB) have worked together to assess the relationship between fairness, equality, work and money. Indeed, how do our brains react to how income is distributed?

More precisely, the interdisciplinary research team from the two institutions looked at the striatum; or the “reward centre” of the brain. By measuring our reaction to questions related to fairness, equality, work and money, this part of the brain may hold some answers to the issue of how we perceive distribution of income.

“The brain appreciates both own reward and fairness. Both influence the activation of the striatum,” says Professor Alexander W. Cappelen. “This may explain why a lot of people are willing to sacrifice monetary rewards when this results in a fairer balance.”

Inequality vs. fairness

Cappelen works at the Department of Economics at NHH and is co-director of the Choice Lab, which consists of researchers devoted to learning more about how people make economic and moral choices.

Along with his NHH Choice Lab colleagues Professor Bertil Tungodden and Professor Erik Ø. Sørensen, Cappelen wanted to explore how the brain’s reward system works. To help them answer this question, the NHH team got in touch with brain researchers Professor Kenneth Hugdahl, Professor Karsten Specht and Professor Tom Eichele, all from the Bergen fMRI Group and UiB’s Department of Biological and Medical Psychology.

Together, the NHH and UiB researchers set out to prove that the brain accepts inequality as long as this inequality is considered fair. The researchers published their results in the article Equity theory and fair inequality: A neuroeconomic study, which was published in the scientific journal PNAS on 13 October 2014.

People’s preferences for income distribution fundamentally affect their behaviour and contribute to shaping important social and political institutions. The study of such preferences has become a major topic in behavioural research in social psychology and economics.

“Our research showed that the striatum shows more activity to monetary rewards when the reward was judged to be fair,” says Kenneth Hugdahl.

IMAGE: Here are five of the six NHH and UiB researchers behind the new study that shows how the brain responds to questions regarding fairness and inequality. Left to right: Bertil…

Click here for more information.

Despite the large literature studying preferences for income distribution, there has so far been no direct neuronal evidence of how the brain responds to income distributions when people have made different contributions in terms of work effort.

Inspired by an article in Nature

The background for the joint study between the NHH and UiB researchers was an article in Nature in February 2010, where an interdisciplinary team of American researchers found evidence that people’s brains react negatively to inequality. The American researchers reached their conclusion by studying how the striatum responded to different levels of inequality in a situation where everyone had made the same contribution….

Website of The Choice lab, Norwegian School of Economics: http://blogg.nhh.no/thechoicelab/

Website of the The Bergen fMRI Group, University of Bergen: http://fmri.uib.no/

October 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release]Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?

Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?.

From the 27 January 2014 press release at EurekAlert 

 IMAGE: Brain Connectivity is the journal of record for researchers and clinicians interested in all aspects of brain connectivity.

Click here for more information. 

New Rochelle, NY, January 27, 2014—Building on previous evidence showing that religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The article “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief” is published in Brain Connectivity, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, and is available free on the Brain Connectivity website at http://www.liebertpub.com/brain.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis and colleagues from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD) and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs. The authors determined causal pathways linking brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery, and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” says Dr. Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions: 1) is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) how does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”

“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” continues study co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs. The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”

 

 

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February 1, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically

From the 24 July 2013 article at Science Daily

Criminal psychopathy can be both repulsive and fascinating, as illustrated by the vast number of books and movies inspired by this topic. Offenders diagnosed with psychopathy pose a significant threat to society, because they are more likely to harm other individuals and to do so again after being released. A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy. This could explain why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.

Why are psychopathic individuals more likely to hurt others? Individuals with psychopathy characteristically demonstrate reduced empathy with the feelings of others, which may explain why it is easier for them to hurt other people. However, what causes this lack of empathy is poorly understood. Scientific studies on psychopathic subjects are notoriously hard to conduct. “Convicted criminals with a diagnosis of psychopathy are confined to high-security forensic institutions in which state-of-the-art technology to study their brain, like magnetic resonance imaging, is usually unavailable,” explains Professor Christian Keysers, Head of the Social Brain Lab in Amsterdam, and senior author of a study on psychopathy appearing in the journal Brain this week. “Bringing them to scientific research centres, on the other hand, requires the kind of high-security transportation that most judicial systems are unwilling to finance.”

The Dutch judicial system, however, seems to be an exception. They joined forces with academia to promote a better understanding of psychopathy. As a result, criminals with psychopathy were transported to the Social Brain Lab of the University Medical Center in Groningen (The Netherlands). There, the team could use state of the art high-field functional magnetic resonance imaging to peak into the brain of criminals with psychopathy while they view the emotions of others.

…..

Related Video

  • The Unrepentent (Canadian Broadcasting Company-The Fifth Estate)
     “They are marked by their ability to kill without passion and without remorse. Some are called psychopaths – a term that evokes nightmare images of murderers and monsters. But the label can also apply to men and women who are successful, intelligent, charismatic, charming and amusing – and so all the more dangerous. This week on the fifth estate, Linden MacIntyre looks at what makes a psychopath through the fifth estate’s close encounters with of four of Canada’s most frightening criminals. [From the CBC site…video at this site is only accessible in Canada]

July 25, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mildly Stressful Situations Can Affect Our Perceptions In The Same Way As Life-Threatening Ones

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 14 June 2012 Medical News Today article

Financial loss can lead to irrational behavior. Now, research by Weizmann Institute scientists reveals that the effects of loss go even deeper: Loss can compromise our early perception and interfere with our grasp of the true situation. The findings, which recently appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, may also have implications for our understanding of the neurological mechanisms underlying post-traumatic stress disorder.

The experiment was conducted by Dr. Rony Paz and research student Offir Laufer of the Neurobiology Department. Subjects underwent a learning process based on classic conditioning and involving money. They were asked to listen to a series of tones composed of three different notes. After hearing one note, they were told they had earned a certain sum; after a second note, they were informed that they had lost some of their money; and a third note was followed by the message that their bankroll would remain the same. According to the findings, when a note was tied to gain, or at least to no loss, the subjects improved over time in a learned task – distinguishing that note from other, similar notes. But when they heard the “lose money” note, they actually got worse at telling one from the other.

Functional MRI (fMRI) scans of the brain areas involved in the learning process revealed an emotional aspect: The amygdala, which is tied to emotions and reward, was strongly involved. The researchers also noted activity in another area in the front of the brain, which functions to moderate the emotional response. Subjects who exhibited stronger activity in this area showed less of a drop in their abilities to distinguish between tones.

Paz: “The evolutionary origins of that blurring of our ability to discriminate are positive: If the best response to the growl of a lion is to run quickly, it would be counterproductive to distinguish between different pitches of growl. Any similar sound should make us flee without thinking. Unfortunately, that same blurring mechanism can be activated today in stress-inducing situations that are not life-threatening – like losing money – and this can harm us.”

That harm may even be quite serious: For instance, it may be involved in post-traumatic stress disorder. If sufferers are unable to distinguish between a stimulus that should cause a panic response and similar, but non-threatening, stimuli, they may experience strong emotional reactions in inappropriate situations. This perceptional blurring may even expand over time to encompass a larger range of stimuli. Paz intends to investigate this possibility in future research.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | 1 Comment

How Meditation Benefits The Brain

How Meditation Benefits The Brain

From the Medical News Today article, Tue Nov 22, 2011 13:00

A new brain imaging study led by researchers at Yale University shows how people who regularly practise meditation are able to switch off areas of the brain linked to daydreaming, anxiety, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. The brains of experienced meditators appear to show less activity in an area known as the “default mode network”, which is linked to largely self-centred thinking. The researchers suggest through monitoring and suppressing or “tuning out” the “me” thoughts, meditators develop a new default mode, which is more present-centred…
Read the entire article

November 23, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

   

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